Conference held on the theme of “Africa: 54 Countries, One Union—Integration and Infrastructure”
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Organization of African Unity, and also the tenth anniversary of the foundation of the African Union. At this important historical juncture, international society is paying much attention to the issue of the peaceful development of Africa and its road to rejuvenation. A conference on the theme of “Africa: 54 Countries, One Union—Integration and Infrastructure” was held in Beijing on the 24th and 25th of October. The conference was co-hosted by the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the Foundation for World Wide Cooperation (FWWC), the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and the Wilson Center. Zhao Shengxuan (Vice President of CASS), Romano Prodi (President of FWWC) and Erastus Mwencha (Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission) attended the opening ceremony and each delivered a speech. Yang Guang, Director of the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, presided over the opening ceremony.
In his opening speech, Zhao addressed the fact that strength in unity is a long-term dream for African countries, and integration is a significant way to realize this unity. During the last twenty years, Africa has maintained rapid economic growth, thus becoming one of the fastest-growing regions of the world. The international status of Africa has gradually improved; however, infrastructure has become a main obstacle for its development. The lack of interconnection between different African countries not only increases the difficulties in African integration, but also creates a high cost for the movement of the factors of production. It is therefore of great significance for African countries to break out of this infrastructure bottleneck.
Zhao pointed out that China has long regarded Africa as its common destiny. Since the creation of the forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2000, both sides have built up a new type of strategic partnership. As a fast-developing country, China has a profound understanding of the active role of infrastructure in economic development and has paid increased attention to the construction of infrastructure in Africa.
Zhao emphasized that the Chinese people are currently working hard for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and meanwhile the African people are devoting themselves to realizing their dreams of unity and self-improvement. It is necessary to boost cooperation between the two sides in the construction of infrastructure so as to realize their common dreams, as well as promoting peace and development throughout the world.
Mr. Prodi claimed in his speech that China is the most important player in boosting African development and cooperation. China’s decisions play an important role in the development of Africa, and meanwhile Africa’s speed of development is closely related to China’s participation.
Discussing the development prospects of Africa, Prodi pointed out that many small African countries are short of a complete market and cannot engage in international economic competition on their own. Realizing integration is therefore the only way to promote the development of the African continent. It is necessary to build a union for realizing integration, and improving the basic infrastructure has to be its primary requirement. If there is no basic interconnecting infrastructure, the costs of Africa’s economic development could increase by thirty to fourty times.
Mr. Mwencha claimed that Africa is now facing the challenges of economic transition. There is therefore huge space for Sino-African cooperation in different fields, including promoting the transition from the export of primary goods to the export of high value-added products, introducing advanced scientific technology, and improving educational levels.
Translated by Chen Meina
Revised by Gabriele Corsetti